Are Fitness Apps a Threat to Your Privacy?
When it was revealed that it was possible to track the runs of military personnel via the Strava app, questions were asked about the security of the many fitness apps used by people.
Strava thought they were offering up an interesting feature in releasing the heatmaps of billions of runs, swims and cycles of their users around the world.
But researchers were able to use this freely available data to map out the routes undertaken by service personnel who used the app when exercising around their bases.
The security risks were highlighted when in some cases it even created a hot-spot over supposedly secret military installations.
Understanding how smartphone apps work beyond just which buttons to press is becoming an increasingly important question to ask as awareness of how much of our data they collect, and what they do with it, grows.
Fitness apps are promoted as a way to track your health goals and share your triumphs and challenges with friends and colleagues.
But you are freely handing over your location details, the time of your exercise routines, health information, as well as your full name and usually a photograph of yourself.
How secure is mobile app?
And while we are aware of this information being passed on to advertisers, there are still many questions about how focussed this information is and whether adverts will look to appeal to us when we are at a difficult moment in our lives.
Many will say that you have to be responsible for your actions and set the privacy levels on your fitness apps correctly, providing you with plenty of control.
But app developers are only human and have to strike a balance between giving an individual control over the settings, and letting that same person enjoy some of the key social benefits of the service.
This often means that fitness apps have layers of privacy settings that the regular user may at first find reassuring, believing their settings are at a comfortable level.
Only to realise when put into a difficult situation through a notification on the app, that there are other settings that need to be activated to ensure their privacy is tighter.
Mobile app security solution
Strava was quick to spot the potential problems raised by its heatmap, saying it would now be updated monthly so if someone changed their privacy settings they would not appear on the map.
It also allowed users to opt-out completely of the heatmap service, as well as create private areas around their home or workplace to ensure these regular areas of activity are not recorded on the map.
But this still requires active decisions by users to opt-out, which suits the owners of the fitness app, but should opting-in become the default setting on all apps?
Until that is the case, you could follow some of the steps advised by the military following the Strava story.
Understand when, and what apps, are using and sharing your location and GPS information, turning them off when not required as over time they can be used to build patterns about your life.
Also respect other people’s personal information and understand why they may not want data being shared, as well as reviewing your own privacy settings and permissions on individual fitness apps and deleting those you no longer use.